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Around New York, UMCOR reaching out to 9-11 victims

10/9/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Families and individuals affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can receive assistance at seven satellite offices established in New York City by the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

From those offices and an administrative base at 475 Riverside Drive, UMCOR's 9-11 case management program had opened files on 146 clients - both families and individuals - as of early October, according to the Rev. Ramon Nieves, program director. It already had closed 15 cases by then. Each case is open an average of three to six months, and 230 cases are on a waiting list.

Since June, the $5 million program has provided comprehensive services to its clients, including referrals for counseling and employment, and assistance with food, housing, transportation and clothing costs. Besides Nieves, the staff includes three case managers, two case aides, a project assistant and two volunteers.

Those affected by the Sept. 11 attacks in New York basically fall into two categories: people who have the ability and means to recover and others, some with no legal documentation, who have not found support, Nieves said. "Recovery, for some folks, has not even begun."

In such cases, he said, entire families are receiving program benefits through UMCOR. For instance, one or both parents might need day care for children and transportation to a job, the household might need extra food assistance and the children might need referrals for psychological counseling. With the beginning of the school year, the program distributed more than 500 school and health kits given by churches around the country to UMCOR's Sager-Brown Depot in Louisiana.

For a few, the trauma has been severe. Nieves said one client worked as a data processor at an office in one of the Twin Towers. On the morning of the attack, she had left the office to go home and retrieve a forgotten disk. "She believes she was spared, but she doesn't feel she has a right to live," he explained. "She's become suicidal and can't work."

The first anniversary of the tragedy was traumatic for others, both emotionally and economically. "The anniversary impacted our waiting list," he confirmed. "The requests for counseling surged immediately."

For the most part, the program has been advertised through fliers and staff visits to various neighborhoods. "We have been visiting United Methodist churches throughout the (city's) boroughs," said Nieves, who added that the denomination's New York Annual (regional) Conference and the United Methodist City Society also have been helpful.

A diverse staff in terms of ethnic makeup, including a member who knows African dialects, "allows us to reach a good number of the population which was affected," he added. The program will soon hire a fourth case manager fluent in the major Chinese dialects.

Because of its case management program, UMCOR has become a major player, with other groups such as the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in New York's unmet needs roundtable, according to Nieves.

UMCOR also has recognized "the serious health issues that evolve and continue to evolve on the Lower East Side (of Manhattan)" because of air pollution resulting from the blast, noting severe respiratory problems, especially asthma in children. Nieves said the agency has advocated for government assistance and the distribution of air purifiers to alleviate the situation.

Nieves originally had planned to rent space for the case management program near Ground Zero as a visible symbol of the United Methodist commitment to the recovery process, but later decided the satellite system provided more mobility and a better use of economic resources.

The current satellite offices are at Chinese United Methodist Church in Chinatown; Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village; a United Methodist City Society-owned building in Harlem; the Women's Muslim Research and Development Center in the Bronx; the United Methodist Center for Pastoral Leadership in the Bronx; Community United Methodist Church in Jackson Heights, Queens; and Astoria Community Services in Astoria, Queens.

Nieves said he is seeking office space in Brooklyn, but has received no requests so far to set up an office on Staten Island.

More information about the program is available by calling (212) 870-3772.

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